In Cerebrate

It’s just one day to go for the 3rd edition of Cerebrate, an event that aims to bring together achievers from different fields.

A lot of people ask me how did the idea of Cerebrate come about and what is its purpose. I figured it makes good sense to open my mind on this subject.

There are two bouts of inspiration that convinved me that hosting Cerebrate will be a life long fascination for me.

The first inspiration for Cerebrate came from Tim O’Reilly’s FooCamp. Every year he and his core team would selectively hand pick 300 achievers and thinkers from the field of technology and invite them for three days of camping and brainstorming. You just have to look at the photos of the event to realize how cool the event is. I loved the fact that people camp out on lawns and discussions happen in makeshift tents.

I also knew that I would never get invited to a FooCamp, no matter how much I really wanted to. Instead of brooding, I decided that the best alternative was to organize a similar event. Coincidentally, that was also the time when FooCamp spurned the idea of BarCamps and me and my friends went on to host BarCampChennai and a series of very successful niche Unconferences.

I became a huge fan of Wisdom of the Crowds and the organized chaos that an unconference brings. I loved the fact that anyone interested could attend and the ensuring high levels of active participation was brilliant.

However, no matter how much I loved unconferences, there were three areas that I felt wanting in them.

1) Because unconferences allow anyone to attend and talk, the signal to noise ratio can be high.

2) As unconferences became popular, the turnout would easily cross 200 people every time. This meant the time spent conversing with people would get diluted.

3) Niche unconferences like WikiCamps, BarCamps tend to attract people from the same field which meant there was no diversity.

While I will continue to be a big fan of Unconference and organize many new ones, I wanted to also explore the other end of the spectrum, which borders on eclectic elitism.

Can we not have fewer people, who are hand-picked for their brilliance? Can we not have people from diverse backgrounds?

That was how Cerebrate was born.

Now, we needed a good venue and could not have gotten a better partner than Club Mahindra. Ramesh Ramanathan, Managing Director, Aniruddha Haldar, Head of Marketing at Club Mahindra loved the concept. Arun Nair who is Sr.Manager of Online Marketing played a crucial role in conceptualizing and planning for the event.

The second inspiration, which reaffirmed my faith in Cerebrate, came in the form of TED. Ever since I saw the videos at, I was inspired. Much before I had the good fortune of being invited to TEDindia at Mysore and TEDActive at Palm Springs, I was convinced that bringing great minds from different fields is really the way to go. Organizing TEDxChennai was a fabulous experience and I realize the experience was great only because we started on a big hunt for great speakers and also achievers who would come in as Stars. ( the equivalent of TED Fellows). It gave this amazing opportunity to meet with people who are passionate about what they did, people who were extremely driven to excel and people who chose to walk on untrodden grounds.

I also realized that many of these people were not celebrities or people who the newspapers covered. Many of the passionate folks were relatively unknown and some even publicity shy. It was the process of unearthing such achievers and passionate folks that I quite enjoyed.

There are a few principles of Cerebrate that add aura to the event.

  • Every participant will be from an unique field. No two people will be from the same profession.
  • The event will always be a residential program, preferably at a venue that is away from cities.
  • There will be no audience.  The only people who will be in the event are the achievers. There won’t be ‘talks’ but conversations.
  • Participants are highly encouraged to leave their laptops, blackberrys behind. There won’t be newspapers or TV either. The focus is highly on people interaction.

We’ve had two editions so far and the third one is just around the corner.  The 2008 edition took place in Varca Beach resort of Club Mahindra in Goa. The 2009 edition took us to a fabulous location in Kumbalgarh, Rajasthan, again graciously hosted by Club Mahindra.   

2010 will see mulitple edition of Cerebrate and will also see it go international.  The 3rd edition will take place at the very picturesque Marg Tapovan, midway between Chennai and Pondicherry.   The 4th edition will move to Gangtok, Sikkim in April and the 5th edition will cross the oceans to Mount Madonna, a beautiful hill retreat in California, US.

Like I said, Cerebrate is a life-long journey to unearth and meet up with great people. Let me know if you would like to join in and help out in this awesome journey.